Wednesday, January 30, 2013

83 Problems: A Buddhist Sutra/Parable

Frank Miles, Seth Auberon, Wisdom Quarterly; Patricia C. Smith (UPDATED)

WHAT IS A SUTRA? A sutra is a "thread" -- stringing or suturing together ideas with a through-line or overarching message. It's the Dharma all stitched up like strings of jewels. There is no need for new sutras -- unless, perhaps, they encapsulate old messages in novel ways. We remember hearing a spellbinding if apocryphal discourse that was put very eloquently:

THUS HAVE I NOT HEARD. Once while the Buddha was staying near the fields, a farmer came to him, paid his respects and, sitting to one side, said:

"O, great teacher, I am but a simple farmer! I love farming. But sometimes there is drought, at other times flooding. I am a husband. I love being married. But sometimes my spouse is indifferent, at other times smothering. I am a father. I love being a parent. But sometimes my children are dull, at other times unruly.
"What am I to do?"

The Buddha looked at the farmer with great compassion, extended both hands, and said: "Sorry, can't help you with those kinds of problems."

The farmer was dumbstruck. When he regained his composure, he argued: "Wait a minute! People speak in praise of you in all quarters. They come to you seeking advice for all sorts of things. And they go away enlightened. You're famous!"

"Sorry," the Buddha repeated, "what can anyone do? Every person has 83 problems. I'm not keen to help them with that."

"Well then tell me," the farmer calmly asked, hoping to make the best of his visit, "what can you help me with?"

"I can help you with your 84th problem."

"O, and what's that?" the farmer said as he leaned in.

"Your 84th problem is your desire not to have any problems.

The farmer was overjoyed. And the Buddha taught him how to overcome suffering.

Wisdom Quarterly

Seth Auberon (COMMENTARY)
The Dharma never ceases to amaze. Sitting at a Buddhist 12-step recovery meeting in Los Angeles (Shambhala's "Heart of Recovery" utilizing Kevin Griffin's One Breath at a Time: Buddhism and the Twelve Steps (Rodale Press 2004), I heard an amazing insight on problems:
  • This is happening to me.
  • That is happening to me.
  • And I don't [expletive] want it!
The world has no problems. Nothing is wrong. It just is the way it is. Why? According to Robert Fripp, who quotes Joanna Walton: "It is that way, because that is the way it is."*

"Problems" are created the instant we say, "I don't want it to be that way!" Otherwise, things just are the way they are, however that may be.
Let the world be as it is. Turn around and look within, where the problem gets created. This is the great liberating insight of modern New Age teachers like Byron Katie and Eckhart Tolle, who owe a great deal to the Dharma as does the entire New Age movement of the past half century.
The problem is our nonacceptance of what is. Imagine being at war with what is. It's miserable. Change it, and that's how it will be. Will we fight it then or become attached? Accept what is; this does not mean do nothing about it. If we refuse what IS, we are butting our heads against reality. This is. Why? Because it is. What can we do about it? Lots! But it is. And it was, and other things will be.

Acceptance does not mean leaving it that way. Why in the world does Wisdom Quarterly: American Buddhist Journal talk so much about social justice, our n'er-do-well civil-rights-abusing shadow government, and geo-politics instead of just telling nice "Buddhist" stories?
We aren't ignoring the world nor ignorant of what is going on. Yet, we have no problem.

Many of us are Engaged Buddhists. We're passionate about causes, contemplative in our meditations, energized about issues, and convinced the world can be better if we save it: the environment, institutions, social relations, truth in histories, education and opportunity for all... But we have no problem.

We do not stop smiling -- no matter what seems to be happening or how helpless it may seem at times. (Ahem, Obama's NDAA). That's because there is no problem. "Let it be, let it be," the Beatles sing, repeating Kwan Yin/Mother Mary.
*Why, why, why?
"That is the way it is because it is that way. It is that way in that it is the way it is. In the way that it is that way that is the way it is. In the way that that is the way that is the way it is that is it is the way. Or that it is that way is the way..." Joanna Walton

It's like a Zen Buddhist kōan. So long as one thinks and rationalizes, bent on hammering out a solution by mere reasoning, there will be no solution. The answer is already clear to the right brain and its part of consciousness, while the left hemisphere worries, throbs, and aches.

The Parable of the 83 Problems
Patricia C. Smith (facebook)
A rich farmer at wit’s end seeks relief.

“Oh Buddha, the drought drags into a seventh year! My beans become dust. Again. And my wife’s cooking is scarcely fit for consumption, yet she waxes horribly stout. Huge! And my six stocky children -- lazy, every one. Rats pilfer my eggs, termites chew my timbers, and thieves and mendicants swarm my town....”
The Buddha says, “I cannot help you.”
The farmer’s eyes pop -- all this way he came! For nothing!
The Buddha says, “Everyone has 83 problems. If you work out one problem, another will surely take its place. And some problems, like death, have no solution [other than nirvana, the deathless].”
The farmer splutters.
The Buddha says, “It may be I can assist with your 84th problem?”


“Your desire to have no problems.”

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